Deciding upon the right book to bring on your travels is often as important as deciding upon the place itself. I always put a lot of thought into which books I bring with me while traveling. I’ve discovered I enjoy mindless, Harry-Potter-type reads on my tropical vacations, and more intellectually stimulating books on my other travels. One thing I don’t like to do is to read books about my destination while I’m actually there. I learned this the hard way by reading Riding the Red Iron Rooster while traveling on the Trans-Siberian. Six days on the train made the novel about train travel a redundant and unnecessary read that was akin to beating a dead horse. Books about my destination should be read before, in order to inspire, and after, in order to wax nostalgically about my journey.
Whatever your philosophy on literature and travel, you should always read something before going. One of my favorite sections of every Lonely Planet guide recommends a selection of books, both fiction and historical, relevant to the destination it covers.
I recently ran across a column in The Sunday Times (London) that has done the same with France. Although this isn’t a regular feature in the newspaper, I think it is such a great idea that the editors should expand it into a weekly column highlighting various locations around the world and the literature they have inspired. Travel isn’t just about the body, it’s about the mind as well.